Jul 262010

It’s not for the first time I said this, but you just gotta love this Internet thing. The big news this morning of course is the leak of some 90,000 classified US military documents from Afghanistan. Guardians of state and military secrets are horrified: troops’ lives will be at risk, they say. What they should recognize is that the fact that we live in an open society, far from being a weakness, is really our greatest strength. Open discussion of the pros and cons, the successes and failures, the risks and possible outcomes of a war is part of living in a liberal democracy.

As to the release itself, it’s funny how times are changing. When I learned the database language SQL ages ago, it was because I make my living as a computer professional. I did not necessarily expect to use my SQL skills in scientific endeavors, but that, too, came to pass when I began using the wonderfully crafted SQL-based query interface of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. What I certainly never expected is that one day, a journalistic leak will arrive in a variety of formats, perhaps the most useful of which is an SQL dump. I wonder: do they teach the building of SELECT queries in journalism school these days?

 Posted by at 1:01 pm

  3 Responses to “Data journalism”

  1. While I agree with you about open discussion of a war effort, and I’ll even cut some slack on putting troops at risk as long as operational security is not being violated, this particular leak has apparently revealed the names of some hundreds of Afghan citizens who are working with Coalition forces, including the name, family, and village of residence of at least one Afghan who is a member of, and double agent within, the Taliban. Given the proclivities of the Taliban and our inability to protect most Afghanis from them, this amounts to sentencing most of the named Afghanis to death by torture. Somehow, I cannot persuade myself that this should be considered a good thing. While leaks of classified information are by no means necessarily a bad thing, it is vital that the leaker give most careful consideration to what (s)he is about to publish!

  2. WikiLeaks specifically claimed that they redacted any such information, with the help of professional journalists from The New York Times and other papers. Obviously, if this is not the case and they’re placing individuals in harm’s way, that crosses the line.

  3. Story here:

    Apparently the White House asked them to remove any names of US personnel, but it seems that nobody troubled themselves to extend the same courtesy to the Afghanis:


    As you say, that crosses the line, BIG TIME. :-(